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Insights with Maria Montes | Interview

The life of contemporary women is complex, multifaceted, sometimes challenging, sometimes overwhelming yet also brimming with opportunity. This month we ask our long-term collaborator Maria Montes to reflect on her life of patterns and letters, personal style and what it is like to work with Chorus and wear your own print head-to-toe.

Would you describe your line of work as conventional?

You can either specialise or you can be versatile, being able to do different things in different ways. I get bored easily, so I like jumping from one discipline to the other constantly or combine them all if possible.

What do you write on your business card?

On my current business card there is no description of what I do, only my name, my social media username, and contact details. My Instagram account has become a folio project in itself, so if you want to see what I do you’ll get a pretty good idea over there.

How did you come into this line of work?

First of all came calligraphy, then typeface design. Through textile design came illustration and finally lettering as the sum of all.

I learnt calligraphy for the first time in 1996 under the tuition of Keith Adams. During my first year at university we had to study 9 months of formal calligraphy as a compulsory subject.

After working as a graphic designer for over 10 years I felt that I needed to go back to the foundations. I consider typography the main tool for a graphic designer and I felt that I needed to up-skill my knowledge.

In 2011 I enrolled for a postgraduate course of advanced typography in Barcelona. During that course I studied formal calligraphy again with Keith Adams and Oriol Miró. I was shocked by how something you love so much can be forgotten for so many years. I grabbed my calligraphy nibs again and since then I haven’t let them go.

After my postgraduate course in Barcelona I came back to Melbourne and started a collaborative project on textile design. I learnt how to illustrate, create patterns and all things related to CAD from my bedroom. I re-discovered that drawing was another of my big passions.

My collaborative textile project was going really well: I was illustrating all day, every day and learning a great deal of new stuff.

The experience of learning type design in Barcelona was so good that a year later I decided to enrol for a condensed program in typeface design at Cooper Union in New York City.

Type@Cooper was a turning point in my career. By that time, I was illustrating full time and writing calligraphy every morning as a personal development. At Cooper Union I learnt a method of drawing type by hand that was a revelation for me and I started to apply the same methodology to illustrating for textiles.

In 2013 one of my typography teachers at university passed away and I received an email asking for submissions to pay homage to Josep Maria Pujol, a great typographer, teacher and type historian. This gave the motivation to send my first lettering submission to a group show.

Lettering made so much sense to me. I see it like the result of combining my interests in writing letters and drawings patterns, which is drawing letters.

Nowadays my weekly practice sits between illustration commissions, lettering projects, calligraphy workshops and textile design.

What is the most important element in a workspace for you?

Community and studio culture. Having people around you that respect, support what you do and understand the emotional mindset of a freelance designer is very important to me.

Being surrounded by other creatives that inspire your work and being able to collaborate with them is the second great deal about my workspace.

At the moment, I feel really lucky to be at Rotson Studios as it gives me the opportunity to work and teach calligraphy from the same space.

Other factors that count is having natural light, good internet connection and a space where you don’t freeze in winter and don’t dehydrate in summer.

This edition is third time we have worked together, what is the most unique part of working with us?

The conceptual work behind each collaboration. My work is strongly concept driven and I feel like there is a lack of it in the commercial fashion world.

I am personally very interested in the collision between art and fashion, and I consider CHORUS’ work to be the expression of fashion art. It is funny because I never knew that Cassandra worked with Viktor & Rolf for a few years, and when I recently found out, everything made so much sense to me.

I am proud of CHORUS unconventional approach to fashion and I am proud of the result of each of our collaborations.

We enjoy your easy going yet uncompromising attitude when we work together, is this a hard thing to balance in collaboration? Meeting a brief yet expressing yourself?

I like briefs, they make my work easier. Having a concept or vision behind, visual reference material, a colour palette and a deadline make me focus and look for the best possible outcome.

Your briefs are detailed as well as inviting to bring new elements or a new perspective to the plate.

With all our collaborations, I feel there is a lot of mutual respect and trust from each other’s practices and that’s why the result is always so interesting.

Your work is often highly detailed and multi coloured, is this reflected in your dressing habits?

Absolutely. My dressing habits always combine colour and patterns.

My grandmother was a fashion designer, dressmaker and a huge influence for me. Eight years ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer and by now she doesn’t recognise anyone nor remember her passion for fashion.

In her house she has four wardrobes full of her own designs (bold colours and patterns) and I am very lucky to own a few of her handmade blouses.


We have known you to wear print from head-to-toe, do you think this changes the way people engage with you?

I think my dressing habits help me to interact with new people. Recently I wore the Hashtag suit to a friend’s wedding. The print is so bold that I wasn’t sure to wear the whole outfit so I asked the bride beforehand. Claire encouraged me to wear it as she loves the design.

After a few glasses of wine, more than half of the wedding guests came to talk to me about my outfit and asked me who the designer was and where did I purchase it, so I ended up meeting a lot of new people on that day!

What are you wearing when you feel most comfortable?

Sneakers and a one-piece suit.

You recently became and Australian citizen, do you think living in Australia has changed the way you dress?

I never thought of it! Living in Australia has definitely changed my work. I think my dressing habits are now aligned to my work, whereas before wasn’t like that.

Living in Fitzroy for the last 6 years has made me appreciate independent fashion and has changed my shopping habits radically. I shop way less and I pick my garments carefully.

Do you have any sartorial memories that have stayed with you?

Every piece in my wardrobe has a story, specially the pieces from my grandmother. I am lucky to be the same size since I was seventeen years old, so I keep a lot of my clothes since then.

I have a leather jacket that is twenty three years old. It was completely new when I bought it and now is a great vintage piece wore out by myself. It has been with me through high school, uni, my first trip to New York City in 2001 and many other adventures. This jacket carries a lot of memories.

What is the biggest insight you can offer other women?

Never stop learning, work very hard, trust in your potential and find the people who believes in you and stick with them.

Last year I became a proud member of Alphabettes, an amazing group of women kicking ass in the type design world. I have a huge admiration for all its members and I have learnt a lot since then.

Listening to female voices in the industry means a lot to me; they encourage my work and help to build my confidence.